The ISEE and SSAT: Get the Most Out of Your Education

By  Layton Funk

Published on  September 24, 2019


Why They’re Important

Any student wanting to get into a private or independent school will need to take the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) or the SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Exam). These exams are meant to test a student heading into lower, middle, or upper level education and see if they have what it takes to enter into their school of choice. Think of these exams as the private school equivalent to the SAT or ACT; both are timed, intensive, comprehensive tests meant to gauge students’ abilities for consideration of admission. For the most part, the ISEE and SSAT are quite similar and many private schools will take either, but do have some differences that may affect how one would decide between each. That choice and the subsequent preparation to take the exam are incredibly important undertakings.

Levels of Education

One may take the ISEE at four levels: Primary (grades 2-4), Lower (5-6), Middle (7-8), and Upper (9-12). The SSAT offers three levels of testing: Elementary (3-4), Middle (5-7), and Upper (8-11).  All levels of each of the two exams are the same basic format and have the same topics but with increasing difficulty, obviously. The ISEE’s sections are Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Achievement, and an essay. Similarly, the SSAT has two Quantitative sections (at the middle and upper level), Reading Comprehension, Verbal, and a writing sample. The difficulty of the content of these independent school entrance tests varies based on the level of education: the higher the grade level, the harder the questions.

Math Sections

Speaking of the content, each of the sections consist of different types of topics and questions. There are slight differences between the SSAT and ISEE in each section. ISEE and SSAT exams have math sections, none of which permit the use of a calculator. In the ISEE, there are two of them: Quantitative Reasoning and Mathematics Achievement. Both sections consist of a series of questions about numbers and operations, algebra, geometry, probability, measurement, problem solving, and data analysis. The SSAT’s sections are both labelled as Quantitative sections. These mathematical topics and subjects are generally the same as the ISEE, but focus more on interpreting the words in the problems to get the right answer or at least the correct operation needed to solve the problem.

English Sections

In Verbal Reasoning, students are expected to identify a series of synonyms in order to test their vocabulary. The SSAT has another portion after that dedicated to analogies in which they interpret the sentences, measuring their ability to relate ideas logically. On the other hand, the ISEE has a simple part dedicated to sentence completion, which is designed to accomplish the same type of logical challenge. The Reading Comprehension sections on both exams consist of a series of passages with questions pertaining to them. These questions measure the test taker’s ability to understand what is read and focus on interpreting the main idea, supporting ideas, inferring, vocabulary, organization and logic, as well as tone, style, and figurative language in the passages. The passages can range from excerpts from novels, poems, essays, short stories, to  even speeches. The final sections of each of the two exams involve writing a short essay based on a topic or prompt.


Whether you are trying to get into a private middle school or high school, you and your student must prepare as early as possible! They only accept the best of the best, and the ISEE and SSAT are ways that they determine exactly that. The lessons your student will learn from Victory Step Education about standardized testing and studying will help to carry them through high school and even college. Besides the format and content of the ISEE and SSAT, the tips and tricks we teach are universal and will be a great resource to shoot for as high of a goal as possible!


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